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Rachel Pott
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I am a marketing major about to start my second year at Northern Michigan University, however, this will be my third year in college. I previously attended a small community college...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Student artist brings folk-soul voice to MQT

Haley Bussell is a local folk-soul singer and NMU student. Photo courtesy of Haley Bussell

Many third graders dream about being princesses, pilots or police officers. However, as time passes, those dreams change. But for Haley Bussell, becoming a rock star was not just a dream. When she belted out Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight,” it was clear that she’d make her dream into a reality.

With a Samick acoustic guitar and a Colbie Caillat-like voice, Haley Bussell, NMU junior and public relations major, is sharing her folk-soul sound in Marquette while inspiring others to take the stage.

Since transferring to NMU last January, Bussell has been performing in several locations around Marquette, notably the Ore Dock Brewing Co., where she hosts a monthly Open Brewsic series. She’s also involved with Velodrome Unplugged, which is a free event hosted each month by Velodrome Coffee Co. It showcases three to four acoustic artists each month.

Music, for Bussell, is more than a hobby. Music is connectivity and a way to say what can’t be said with words, Bussell said.

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“When you sit down and play a chord progression on the keyboard, even without the words, you can feel that’s the way you’re feeling at that moment in time,” Bussell said.

Growing up in a sports-orientated family in Traverse City, Bussell was more of an “oddball” compared to her other siblings. She crafted her voice by listening to older styles of music like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks.

Her older sisters encouraged her to continue singing but she wanted to accompany herself and learn how to write her own music, she said. So after her parents bought her a guitar on her 15th birthday, she began teaching herself how to play. But songwriting didn’t come as easily as she expected it to, she said.

“I was kind of hesitant to write when I was growing up. I wasn’t one of those kids who wrote poems and songs all the time,” she said.

It was after attending several open mics when Bussell sat down one day and wrote her first two songs. She then went to a summer songwriting camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts and then auditioned for their Arts Academy where she completed her senior year of high school.

Her songwriting grew even more when she attended Belmont University in Nashville. After completing a songwriting program and internships with a publishing and production company, Bussell said Nashville wasn’t the right fit for her and she wanted a change of scenery.

With its geological attraction and small community, Marquette had a different motive in mind than the Nashville music scene offered, she said.

“[Music in] Marquette is something that’s fun and they like to do it,” she said. “I would argue that it’s more organic here. When you take money out of it, it changes things.”

Bussell enjoys playing covers in her sets, including her personal favorite, “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals, but she said nothing replaces the feeling of perorming original music.

“I like playing my originals because it is a reflection of me,” Bussell said. “When someone comes up to me afterward and is like ‘What you said and what you wrote resonated with me’ that makes me feel good.”

When it comes to songwriting, sad songs are much easier to compose than “cheesy” love songs, she said. Songwriting is a skill you can’t “force,” but it doesn’t require an emotional experience to write a good song, she added.

“I try to have an honest voice. I want it to seem authentic and real,” she said.
Music is a learning process, she said. Though Bussell has developed her vocals and guitar skills, there’s always the unexpected to prepare for, she noted.

“I learned: never forget your capo,” Bussell said, chuckling. “I
was playing a fundraiser at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and I forgot my capo. I was playing songs and it was way too low for me tosing or it would be way too high. It was just not good at all.”

When performing in front of a live audience, it’s “vulnerable” territory and intimidating but also moving when people can connect with one another, Bussell said.
“I still get nervous when I go up on stage,” she noted. “Everyone’s watching you and it teaches you to be in control of your emotion and vulnerability.”

Bussell’s next performances include the Velodrome Unplugged series on Mar. 29, the Northern Troubadours Songwriting Series on April 5 and Babe Fest in downtown Houghton at the Lode Theatre on April 7. For more on Bussell, visit her Facebook page at Haley Bussell Music.

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